The American West (2016– )
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The murder of Pinkerton agent Joseph Whicher (supposedly by Jesse James) was 1874, not 1876. Jesse James and his gang were not patriots continuing the fight for the Southern Cause, they were bank robbers who kept the money they stole. Pinkerton agents threw a smoke bomb into the James family house that unexpectedly exploded (possibly in the fireplace), not a fire bomb as the show asserts, and the house was damaged, not burned to the ground. President Grant's efforts to buy the Black Hill was 1875, not 1876. President's Grant's order to the Sioux to report to reservations was 1875, not 1876. Sitting Bull gathered about 2500 warriors in the spring of 1876, not 4000. The "tribe" of Arapahos at the Little Big Horn were five hunters previously held prisoner by the Sioux (Waterman, Sage, Left Hand, Yellow Eagle, and Little Bird). George Custer was not removed from 7th Cavalry command because he led the Black Hills Expedition of 1875, he was removed for calling President Grant's brother Orville Grant a crook. Custer's so-called presidential ambitions in 1876 are an old canard that has been disproved over and over again. The program even quotes historian Paul Hutton supporting this lie, when in fact Hutton has explicitly rejected it. The show's editors deliberately re-cut Hutton's interview to provide a false narrative. Custer did not "lead" one of three cavalry columns into Montana, General Alfred Terry was in command and Custer was his subordinate. It was not Custer's order to move out against the Sioux on June 22nd, it was General Terry's order, and they didn't know the Native tribes were on the Little Big Horn until days later. Custer took 650 men with him, not "less than 500." These are only a few errors, there are lots more, major and minor.
This program has good production values and some nice imagery. The narration is done well. However, its unfortunate that the people watching this program are being exposed to so much disinformation.
The series is cheaply made, recycling the same footage over and over and over again. The continuity is lousy. So is the dialogue. The narration is trivial and repetitive. The clichés are endless, the scripting shallow. Many of the "facts" are non-factual (inaccuracies abound, as other reviewers point out). So it's historically suspect. All in all, the storytelling is at the level of an adolescent comic book.
In the end, this mini-series offers up the same shallow romantic crap about the West that's been around for decades. And it's badly made. Very disappointing. Sorry to say it, but Redford's judgment must be gone to put put his name on this work.
If you want to learn about the American West between 1865-1890, find something else. Or just watch a western movie; at least you'll be entertained.
When you never show Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson or any of the other Earp brothers when talking about his time in Dodge City you've lost a lot of the story of Wyatt Earp. No mention of his wife Matty or the rest of the family.
Once scene in episode 6 shows Brisco County and Bowler from the Adventures of Brisco County Jr. riding into town. Now how can you take a documentary seriously after that. Robert Redford should be ashamed of such a poor production.
For a documentary, the use of "expert" opinion from movie stars is hardly a good idea. Have we stooped so low that we get our history from movie stars?
Perhaps the reliance on movie stars for the primary documentation is one of the reasons this 8 part series has so many errors (e.g., Jesse James and Billy the Kid met, Wyatt Earp went to Tombstone to be their Sheriff).
Another weakness of the series is that there is no real underlying theme. There are brief episodes about Jesse James (Missouri), Billy the Kid (New Mexico), Wyatt Earp (Kansa and Arizona), and Custer and Sitting Bull (the Dakotas). But there is no real glue that holds the episodes together (e.g., the demands of capitalism to obtain natural resources, the political post war climate, the economic problems and the challenges of currency, etc.)
Telling the story of the West is an important project, but this series fails to do it in a meaningful way. FWIW - I really like the TV series "Centennial" (1978-79) and "Hell on Wheels" (2011-16). They both gave a comprehensive history of the West and did so in a more entertaining manner. For sheer pleasure, "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" (1973) is my favorite telling of this story.
This series does none of it. It's dull, boring, trite and poorly produced at all levels.
After an interesting series like "Hell on Wheels", AMC embarrassed itself by running this waste of time. The director, producers and writers should be ashamed of themselves for the shoddy, lazy product they put together.
Shoddy, clumsy, lightweight and not even a great deal of entertainment value to speak of. Two stars is ample reward.
I really like this mini-series, but was very disappointed in the historical accuracy of it. I could go into a lot of detail about it but I'll just mention a few things.
They presented John Tunstall as if he were some older ranch man. Tunstall died at the age of 24 and was British. Not showing that kind of surprised me because it left out a major point of the story. The house was more or less run by Murphy and Dolan (who they never even mentioned for some reason), and they were Irish. So there was a great deal of tension between the two sides just because one was Irish and one was British.
Also, there is literally more evidence that the Loch Ness Monster exists than there is that Billy the Kid met with Jesse James. Yet this show presents it as if it were fact.
Also the depiction of the Big Killing was very disappointing. It seems to me they tried to make it more like Young Guns rather than trying to make it historically accurate. The didn't show the house being put ablaze, and they made it look like it took place in an afternoon when in reality it spanned over 4 days and Billy and a few others escaped at night.
I also don't know how you talk about Earp and Dodge City and leave out Bat Masterson. Small detail, but I also noticed that when they were talking about Las Vegas, New Mexico they shoved a photo of the dead Dalton Gang from Coffeyville in there, like it happened in New Mexico?
Anyway I give this a 4 out of 10 for historical accuracy and an 8 for entertainment, so I met in the middle and gave it a 6. Fun to watch, but if you're looking for accuracy look for better documentaries.
There are "qualified historians" who serve as narrators and as such makes me want to trust the actual documentation of the characters depicted. When I check the actual history of the events, why the discrepancy? Also some of the "special narrators" like John McCain and other celebrities leave me asking myself what do they know about the old west?? But then they were obviously invited by Mr. Redford, whom I doubt knows much more than film festivals at Sundance can offer.
Also, there were some rebel soldiers who continued to fight against Northern supremacy and order. Jesse James and his gang began to terrorize and strike at Northern interests.
This is how "The American West"--an eight part series executive produced by Robert Redford--begins. With voice overs and reenactments, the show details the beginnings of what becomes a two-front war that General Grant wages from Washington.
The credentials of the historians who add their remarks are impressive. There certainly is a wealth of academic inquiry available to the makers of this show. Still, this is a true story that seems to be painted with a broad brush. And it does not answer some key questions about the motivations and actions of some of the actors in this vast drama.
It does, however, establish a basic framework that viewers can build upon with personal reading and further scholarship. As always, history is a complex matter, and the outline provided by this series leaves plenty of room for a more refined understanding.
I will just say, I observed too many inaccuracies to take this series too seriously. From the rail road spike in backwards and improper tools used to on the railroad to inaccuracies in the equipment and tactics during the Little Bighorn segments. Even "image flops" making right handed tools appear left handed. Just too many "plot holes", in my opinion. Hopefully it will inspire folks to further research the parts they found interesting.
Guns are mainly non-firing Spanish made Denix replicas.
Looking at the facts they present its also debatable. As an example the description of the Pinkerton raid on the James ranch is more or less completely wrong.
To summarize. A series with OK screen value but with very low historical accuracy.
This is a good place to start exploring the fascinating history of the old west. Just don't take the contents of the shows for being gospel. After all, this is Hollywoods version of history.
The only real detraction in the series I found was the producers repeated insistence on having commentary by actors such as Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds and other actors who make their living memorizing lines written by others. Considering that most of these people barely have a high school education, let alone any expertise in American history, it is hard to believe that the producers seriously thought that these people, as well as politicians like John McCain, would add any significant insights or information to the series. Apparently the producers take the audience for being too stupid to recognize a washed up old actor as some type of subject matter expert because he starred in a movie about the West. Putting aside that only criticism The American West is an engaging look at one of the most exciting and historically important periods in American History. I recommend it.
"I believe the most believable account came from the White, union soldier who stabbed Crazy Horse to death with his bayonette." I shouldn't have to explain why this comment is ridiculous when discussing any historical event. It may not be an exact quote but as we are all just making stuff up I am not going back to get an exact Quote.
The details left out of the historical accounts from the series and the way events are mixed up and put together in a way edited to tell a complete differing account of events is what will upset anyone who took half an hour to try and find the truest account of the stories that will have been told and reshaped thousands of times over the past years. It made Pat Garrett look better than a sneak killer who creeped into the dark room on a 19year old boy to murder him on his lovers brother word. It brought Earps brothers another day of life to only kill them off after the day in Tombstone instead of the night before it and made Jesse James look like a paranoid fool who forced men to fight with him not win their loyalty.
It leave out facts and rearranges events and times rather than fabricate them and it is fun to watch the productions, even though I saw the same bussiness man in Fort Sumner and Tombstone walking the same street with the same woman, in the same street that seemed to be in both towns at the same time. If you want historically accurate however, pre-pair to be drawing your six-shooter out to blow a hole in your TV by the end of the first episode I am afraid.